PalaceforLife is a charitable foundation set up by Crystal Palace FC to help change the lives of young people from South London via sport. PFL’s disability manager Michael Harrington gives Elephant Sport an insight into its work.
Tell us a bit more about PalaceforLife: how and when did it start?
The Palace for Life foundation has been working with the South London community for over 25 years. We exist to leverage the power of football and the Crystal Palace FC brand to change the lives of young people across South London, particularly the most hard-to-reach and hard-to-help.
We work with over 13,000 people each year, inspiring them to find a better path and to lead a healthier life. We cover a broad spectrum, from football sessions for young people with a disability, to delivering engaging assemblies and workshops in local schools and colleges.
Targeting young people in areas of deprivation, we offer free sessions in sport and other activities, alongside pastoral support, to instil positive values and help prepare our participants for a better life.
We have strong connections within the local community and businesses and run programmes designed to equip young people with the skills they need to start thinking about their future careers.
We believe that everyone matters, irrespective of their background and beliefs, and by giving extra support to the most vulnerable, we will help create a better community and society.
How long have you been with the Foundation, and what does your work involve?
I have been at the foundation for about 15 years. I am a UEFA B Licence football coach and currently head up our Disability Programmes.
This involves delivering some football coaching sessions myself, managing a small team of full and part-time employees, overseeing our wide and diverse weekly delivery schedule and developing new and existing partnerships with like-minded organisations who can have a real impact on the lives of people with a disability.
What are the most rewarding and satisfying parts of your job?
Working in a sector where everybody is trying to do the right thing to make people’s lives better, and the variety of people that I come in contact with on a daily basis.
Why is it important to Crystal Palace FC to make a positive impact on its local communities?
Being part of Crystal Palace FC and the Premier League, we are in a unique place to harness the ‘Power of Palace’, combined with the immense benefits that sport can bring to everybody’s lives.
These include improvements in physical fitness, self-esteem and confidence, reducing isolation and educating people around the importance of e
ating well, working hard and establishing core values such as honesty, fair play and teamwork.
Do the club’s players and coaching staff get involved in the work of the foundation?
Yes, players and staff make regular appearances not only as inspirational guests at our delivery sessions in schools, colleges and local sports centres, but also at our staff development days like [manager] Roy Hodgson did in July.
Today’s elite footballers get labelled as greedy and selfish; is this unfair, and do the Palace players do their best to help with your activities?
Yes, I think this is unfair. The players do a lot of good locally within the community that often goes unnoticed.
This can vary from making financial contrbutions to local projects – for example [goalkeeper] Julian Speroni buying two sports power-chairs for our wheelchair football team – to other players turning up unannounced to support weekly football training sessions for young people.
What kind of projects and initiatives does the foundation help to fund?
We have the following impairment specific groups and a few of these have a football team attached to them: Powerchair, Down’s Syndrome, Mental Health, Learning/Intellectual Disabilities, Vision Impaired.
We also run an schools programme that either delivers PE lessons throughout the year or we have a specialist six-week plus mini-festival programme targeted at new schools and those more inactive to generate an interest in playing football or becoming more sporty.
In terms of the foundation itself, has there been any changes in recent months?
The foundation is always changing to meet the needs of the local communities that it reaches.
The past eight months has seen the start of our Targeted Intervention programmes that aim to build up the resilience of young people at risk of anti-social behaviour and crime, whilst also working with young offenders to restore good mental and emotional health following adverse and challenging situations.
Young people are given educational opportunities and the chance to gain accredited qualifications, as well as learning the importance of healthy behaviours and how their actions affect not only themselves but the local community.
We have also started the Work Ready & Prepared (WRAP) programme which combines real-life, meaningful work experience with industry-specific accreditations, and training to prepare young people for the world of work.
This comprehensive 15-week study programme is designed to provide a wide-range of opportunities to practice skills within the workplace for 16-18 year olds.
What do people say about PalaceforLife and what kind of an impact does it have on your team?
We get a lot of positive feedback from those who we come in contact with, but to find out what others really think about us you would need to ask them.
Is the foundation dependent on Palace doing well on the pitch and staying in the Premier League, or is its funding protected?
The Premier League are a large financial contributor to our activities, but we are not wholly dependent on them to enable us to function. Obviously, it is beneficial for Palace to be a PL team, both financially and for the high profile it gives us.
Are you always looking to expand its activities and get more people involved in your programmes?
Yes we are, our aim is to engage with more people who are inactive and do not currently have the opportunity to play any sport.
Does PalaceforLife have any targets for 2019?
To continue to have a positive effect on the lives of young south Londoners.
How would you sum up the PalaceforLife foundation in three words?
Bold, Helpful, Strong.
Feature image courtesy of the PalaceForLife Foundation. Selhurst Park image courtesy of Ajay Suresh; Julian Speroni image courtesy of Richard Fisher, both via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY 2.0.
Follow the PFL Foundation’s work on Twitter @PalaceForLife.